Posts Tagged ‘Birds’

There's gotta be a tasty morsel down there somewhere -- Photo by Pat Bean

“For man, as for flower and beast and bird, the supreme triumph is to be most vividly, most perfectly alive.”– David Herbert Lawrence
Bird Talk
Went birding this morning instead of posting my blog. So all you get today is a picture of the great egret I watched fishing for its dinner at the Sea Center in Lake Jackson, Texas.  I hope you had a great day, too.

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“An artist is a dreamer consenting to dream of the actual world.” George Santayana

Birdcage Mural at the St. Louis Zoo -- Photo by Pat Bean

Travels With Maggie

Inspiration for a blog topic eluded me this morning. After an hour spent reading e-mails, favorite blogs and the depressing news in the New York Times, I still hadn’t come up with a keyboard burner.

Spoonbill nest against the frame of the Birdcage -- Photo by Pat Bean

So I did what I usually do when this happens. I peruse the photos I’ve taken since my canine traveling companion, Maggie, and I began living and traveling full-time in our RV, Gypsy Lee. Thankfully I have seven years and over 123,00 miles of fodder to search for an idea. The walk back down memory lane is always pleasurable so I’m not complaining.

This morning my fancy was stopped at the St. Louis Zoo, home of the Birdcage. This walk-in aviary was built for the 1904 World’s Fair by the Smithsonian Institution at a cost of $17,500.

It was supposed to be moved to the organization’s National Zoo in Washington D.C. after the fair ended, but St. Louis residents protested, and the Smithsonian generously allowed the city to buy the flight cage for $3,500.

Pieces of sky framed by the Birdcage's ribs, with artfully placed birds. -- Photo by Pat Bean

Cost of the birds was extra. Records show that these charges included $7.50 for a pair of Mandarin ducks and $20 for four Canada geese.

Today it’s been turned into a cypress swamp that houses aquatic birds commonly found along the Mississippi River.

Looking through the pictures that I took back in 2006, I was struck by the amazing likeness between art and the real thing. The art is part of the glass tile mural outside the cage and the real things are the birds that live in the aviary.

I found both beautiful, particularly when I thought about the artist who created the mural.

Now I’m curious to know who was the artist.  Do you know?

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“I have the world’s largest collection of seashells. I keep it on all the beaches of the world … perhaps you’ve seen it.” – Steven Wright

Wave-watching from the Quintana Jetty on the Texas Gulf Coast. -- Photo by Pat Bean

Travels With Maggie

Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum’s latest antics in “Explosive Eighteen” called louder to me last night than the Cowboys and Giants.

This ruddy turnstone was also wave-watching. -- Photo by Pat Bean

So after dinner with my son and his family, I escaped back out to my RV to read instead of watch the Dallas Cowboy?New York Giants football game. As a Dallas native, I’m an avid cowboy fan, but I seldom watch football these days, preferring instead to read about the game the next day.

I also knew that this particularly game was going to spark family tensions. My Texan son, Lewis, would be pulling for the Cowboys, while my fantastic New Yorker daughter-in-law, Karen, would be rooting for the Giants. Both of them are rabid followers of their teams.

My son left for work before I got up this morning, but my daughter-in-law stopped by my RV to say good-bye before she left for the day. I

Footprints in the sand intrigue me. -- Photo by Pat Bean

didn’t need to ask who won. The smile on her face lit up the overcast dawn. Hopefully my son will have cheered up by the time he gets home.

In the meantime, I have errands to run. I have to mail off Christmas packages and get propane for my RV, which means a road trip from Lake Jackson to Brazoria.

After that, Maggie and I are going to the beach for a little bird-watching, wave-watching and sand-walking. I can’t think of a better way to spend the afternoon. Can you?

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“Both the grand and the intimate aspects of nature can be revealed in the expressive photograph. Both can stir enduring affirmations and discoveries, and can surely help the spectator in his search for identification with the vast world of natural beauty and the wonder surrounding him. – Ansel Adams


Vermilion flycatcher: Unlike many flycatchers that look alike, there is no mistaking this species. -- Photo by Pat Bean


Bird Talk

I’ve always wanted to know the names of things, but I wasn’t exactly pathetic about the need until I took up birding back in 1999.

I came late to this addictive passion, suddenly being amazed at all the birds around me. Where once these flying creatures were invisible, as if existing in a parallel world with a curtain drawn between them and me, suddenly I was seeing them everywhere.

My fascination with birds can be annoying to non-birders. A shadow flicks across the landscape and I lose my place in a conversation as my eyes turn upward searching for the source.

I constantly scan the tops of utility poles looking for familiar profiles. The sight of a red-tailed hawk sitting atop one causes me to yell “stop” to the car driver. A rustle or movement of leaves and I am distracted from a task. No roadside pond goes unscanned. Well, you get the idea.


The unique profile of a hammerkop makes it a hard bird to misidentify. But you'll have to go to the African continent if you want to see one. -- Photo by Pat bean

But seeing a bird is not enough. I must know what bird it is.

Is that a crow or a raven was one of my first identification problems. The raven is larger but size, without a comparison, is not much help. So I learned that a crow’s tail is razor straight at the end, while a raven’s tail is wedge-shaped. Ravens also are the ones who suffer bad-hair days.

Many flycatchers, meanwhile, still puzzle me. Quite a few look almost exactly alike. A long look through a good scope, and knowing preferred ranges and habitats of each species, is necessary for identifying these birds.


You won't find this bird in any field guide. It's a mallard hybrid. -- Photo by Pat Bean

Knowing that you’re looking at a flycatcher is easy, however. One usually sees them sitting up straight on a branch. They fly out to catch an insect and then most return to the same branch to repeat the process. If I have long enough to watch, and a good field guide, sometimes I can even figure out whether it’s a dusky or a willow, or one of several other flycatchers showing off for me.

When I was first learning to bird, there was this one particular duck that completely stumped me. While I had a really good look at the creature, I couldn’t find it in my field guide. I finally gave up and asked one of my birding mentors, who immediately broke into laughter.

The duck in question was a mallard hybrid. Since then I’ve seen a lot of these unique, but sterile offspring. Mallards, it seems, are sluts.

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 “My favorite weather is bird-chirping weather.” Terri Guillemets

Himalayan snowcock -- Wikipedia photo

Chasing Birds

While the recently released movie, “The Big Year,” hasn’t been a top box-office hit, I thought it was a great film. Of course I’m a passionate birder and could relate to the chase to be best North American Birder of the Year.

The record number of species seen between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31, by the way, is 745 species. I won’t tell you who holds the title, however, because that might spoil the movie for one of my readers who hasn’t yet seen it.

One of the scenes in the film, which shows just how crazy we birders can get, depicts a wild helicopter chase of Himalayan snowcocks in Nevada’s Ruby Mountains.

Chukar on Antelope Island ... Photo by Pat Bean

Boy I wish I had such a conveyance at my convenience. I’ve never seen this pheasant species, and these days am not up to the rough hike, which unless one is extra lucky, is the most likely way of spotting one.

I may still give it a try next year, however. Like a lot of other birders, “The Big Year” inspired me to step up my birding game. And my curiosity about snowcocks inspired me to see what I could find out about these birds. The Internet, which I have come to love, turned up a couple of interesting blogs from birders who have seen the Himalayan snowcocks in the Ruby Mountains.

I noticed, when looking at pictures of the birds on a couple of Web sites – http://tinyurl.com/3uya55p and http://tinyurl.com/3w6edbx– that the snowcocks look a lot like the chukars I have seen on Antelope Island in Utah’s Great Salt Lake.

The chukar, however, is not a difficult bird to add to one’s life list. It can be seen in at least nine western states, whereas the snowcock can only be found on this continent in the Ruby Mountains. And it wouldn’t even be there except that Nevada Fish and Game thought the bird would be a good game bird for hunters – and in the 1960s, transplanted about 200 of them there from Pakistan.

There may be 500 or more of the birds today roaming around the mountains near Wells, Nevada. Yes, I am for sure going to have to visit the Ruby Mountains soon. The snowcocks are calling to me.


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“Reading about nature is fine, but if a person walks in the woods and listens carefully, he can learn more than what is in books … “  —  George Washington Carver

Chasing Birds


While I didn't have my camera the day I walked in the Dow Woods, I've taken it often to the San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge, where Lewis and I have trod this boardwalk through Bobcat Woods. -- Photo by Pat Bean

A new addition to Texas’ wildlife sanctuary complex, the Dow Woods, opened this past week. Located just five minutes from my son, Lewis’, home in Lake Jackson. We two avid birders had to check it out of course.

The 338-acre site, designated as part of the San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge, currently includes two loop trails, totaling 2.5 miles, that run along Bastrop Bayou. Plans are in the works to put in more trails in the near future.

The land was donated to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service by Dow Chemical, which was actually responsible for creating the town of Lake Jackson in the 1940s so its employees would have a place to live.

Lake Jackson, where our family lived from 1956-1971. is called the City of Enchantment, partly because of the vast number of trees that were spared when the swampy forest was cleared and drainage canals were dug so the land would be livable.


A crested caracara that I spotted at the San Bernard NWR. -- Photo by Pat Bean

 It’s nice to see that in a time when corporate greed is so rampant that a large employer is still both giving to the community and conserving the landscape.

The actions, along with the jobs the company provides the area, ease a bit the large footprint the chemical plant also has on the local landscape.

Lewis, whose favorite birding site, is the San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge’s main location, is delighted that this new addition to is so close to his home. And we both found it a delightful place to walk and look for birds.

I, however, was a bit upset with myself because while I remembered to bring my binoculars, I left my camera at home.

If you’re in the neighborhood, you should drop by. Dow Woods is located on Old Angleton (or County Road 288) about a mile north of FM 2004.

I plan to go back soon and take my camera. Perhaps I’ll see you there.

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 “Accept that some days you are the pigeon, and some days you are the statue.” – David Brent


Female great-tailed grackle at Surfside -- Photo by Pat Bean



Chasing Birds

The photo on the left, taken this week at the Surfside Jetty where my son, Lewis, and I began a day of birding, shows the female great-tailed grackle that was pestering my son, Lewis, for a bite of his breakfast taco. Her male comrade was a bit more standoffish.

Great-tailed grackles are one of the birds that make every birder’s list if they live anywhere in Texas. The smaller common grackle is a bit more choosy about where it lives in the state, and the third North American grackle, the boat-tailed, even choosier. It can only be found along the shores of Texas’ Gulf Coast, and then mostly only on the more northern end. Florida is the boat-tail’s favorite habitat.

On this day of chasing down birds, the great-tailed grackle was the only one of the three species Lewis and I saw, although on most bird outings in the area we get the common, too, and occasionally even a boat-tailed grackle.


Male great-tailed grackle. Note the bright yellow eye.

It’s easy to tell the common and the great-tailed apart simply by size. The common is a 12-inch bird and the great-tailed a 15-18-inch bird, the male being the larger of the sexes.

The boat-tailed, meanwhile, is close in size to the great-tailed but with a very round head. compared to a very-flat head for the great-tailed. You can also easily tell the two apart if the boat-tailed is vocal – and it usually is. Its voice is more coarse and gravelly than those of the other two grackles. .

The females of all three species are varying shades of brown.

Grackles, which often roam about in large flocks, are considered nuisance birds by some. And while that might not be far off the mark, since they prefer harvesting a farmer’s crops more than living off uncultivated land, I still enjoying watching them.

Perhaps it’s because I admire their attitude, such as the one displayed by the female this day that wasn’t going to be intimidated out of any Taco droppings by we mere humans. Or perhaps it’s because I find the iridescent purple and green sheen on the males’ feathers a work of art.

Or perhaps it’s simply because all birds fascinate me.

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“…we turned a point of the hill on our left, and came suddenly in sight of another and much larger lake, which, along its eastern shore, was closely bordered by the high black ridge which walled it in by a precipitous face … Spread out over a length of 20 miles, the lake, when we first came in view, presented a handsome sheet of water; and I gave to it the name Lake Albert, in honor of the chief of the corps to which I belong. …” John Fremont

Lake Albert's southeast end from Highway 395. -- Photo by Pat Bean

Travels With Maggie

Highway 395 stretches for 1,370 miles – from the Canadian border in Washington, down through Oregon, California, Nevada and back into California, where it ends just about 150 miles short of the Mexican border. .

I drove 730 miles of it heading south last month, beginning in Pendleton, Oregon, and ending when I turned west onto Highway 120 that would take me up and over 9,943-foot Tioga Pass through the Sierra Nevada Mountains and down into Yosemite Valley.

Much of the drive was on steep, narrow, winding roads with little traffic. I loved every moment of the journey.

Lake Albert from Albert Rim -- Wikipedia photo

The route winds through Oregon’s Battle Mountain State Park, the Umatilla, Malheur, Modoc, Toiyabe and Inyo national forests, and the X L Ranch Indian Reservation, passing numerous lakes on the way. There’s Goose Lake in Oregon, located near Fandango Pass that was used by early settlers to California; Nevada’s Washoe Lake, located between Reno and Carson City and popular with windsurfers; and Mono Lake in California, which was on my bucket list because of its importance to migrating shore birds.

A smaller lake that captured my attention was Oregon’s Lake Albert. Like Mono, it is too salty for fish to live in its waters. It has, however, a dense population of brine shrimp that make it a popular dining stopover for migrating grebes, phalaropes, terns, avocets, geese, stilts, ibis and other birds.

Albert Rim geology marker -- Photo by Pat Bean

Canada geese were the main occupants on the narrow lake the day I drove the 15-mile section of Highway 395 that overlooks the east side of the lake from just feet away. I stopped several times to admire the lonely and lovely view of pink hills reflecting onto the water from the opposite shore.

I also found myself fascinated by the geology marker that explained the lava ridge running parallel to the lake. Known as the Albert Rim, it’s one of the highest fault scarps in the United States.

Except for the highway, which ran between the basalt ridge and the lake, and an occasional passing vehicle, I suspected the landscape still looked pretty much as it did during John Fremont’s mapping expedition in central and southern Oregon back in the 1840s.

It’s rare to find a place so little impacted by we humans – and wonderful.

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 “Sometimes it’s important to work for that pot of gold. But other times it’s essential to take time off and to make sure that your most important decision in the day simply consists of choosing which color to slide down on the rainbow.” Douglas Pagels

Travels With Maggie`

A walk around Silverbell Lake helped clear the cobwebs from my crowded brain. -- Photo by Pat Bean

Life caught up with me this past week. Too many miles in not enough days, too many amazing sights and not enough time to linger among them, and only three days to enjoy loved ones before I’m back on the road.

My preferred style of travel – no more than 150 miles a day with a couple of days sitting in between – has been blown to hell in a hand basket, the same one my grandmother said would take me there if I didn’t shape up.

Something had to give. And it did. I stayed off my computer and missed two days of daily blogging.

Instead, I lazed around my youngest daughter’s Tucson home, took Maggie for short walks, enjoyed the company of three grandsons, hiked around Silverbell Lake while everyone else fished, read a lot, and watched the turkey vulture and red-tailed hawks soar above, and doves, rock wrens, curved-bill thrashers, gila woodpeckers, northern flickers and rabbits play among the saguaro cactus.

My daughter, Trish, lives on the outskirts of the city and coyotes and bobcats often visit, she said. As do quail that usually trot past their back porch daily.

My son-in-law, Joe, described them for me, and I suspect they’re Gambel’s quail, although they could just as easily be California quail. Both species have the C-shaped plume dangling forward over the front of their heads.


A landscaped yard without grass. Drought-stricken area residents should take note. -- Photo by Pat Bean

I haven’t seen them yet. I think they’re taking a break from their daily routine – like me.

It’s back on the road tomorrow. I’m heading to Texas’ Gulf Coast and a grandson’s wedding. It will be another four days of 300-mile a day drives, although thankfully, well except for the first 50 miles, it will not be freeway driving.

Interstates were something I could not avoid for two entire days on my way from Yosemite to Tucson. It made me never want to go back to California, that and the fact I was paying $4.15 a gallon for gas there. The cost immediately dropped to $3,39 a gallon once I crossed the border into Arizona.

I’ll post pictures nightly of my next four days of driving so you can enjoy the road with me. Just don’t expect me to be too wordy. I’ll save those for later when life has once again slowed down.  


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“Morning is when the wick is lit. A flame ignited, the day delighted with heat and light, we start the fight for something more than before.” Jeb Dickerson 

One of the two northern flickers that visited me just as the sun was coming up this morning. -- Photo by Pat Bean

Travels With Maggie

My morning began at 5 a.m. with a phone call when I was still deep asleep, By the time I stumbled out of bed and figured out where my phone was – in the cab beneath my RV’s upper bunk – it had stopped ringing.

After crawling back into bed and snuggling back beneath the covers because it was quite a chilly morning here in Pendleton, Oregon, where I’m parked in the farmyard of a friend’s mother, I hit the redial button.

It was my daughter-in-law, Cindi, in Texas who rang to tell me the books I had ordered from Amazon had arrived. They included Susan Albert’s “Bleeding Heart,” the next in the China Bayles’ books I’m reading and one that hadn’t been available on Kindle.

A much better look at a northern flicker, this one a male. -- Photo by Joanne Kamo

I said, perhaps a bit snippy: “It’s o-dark-hundred here. I’m in the Pacific time zone and two hours earlier than where you are.”

“Oh,” she responded. But then of course we chatted for a while. I couldn’t be too angry because she’s my traveling guardian angel and has handled all my mail for the past seven years. .

After we hung up, I tried to go back to sleep, but unlike my dog, Maggie, who never even lifted her head at the phone call, sleep had vanished for the day. So I got up, fixed coffee and sat down in front of my computer, alternating between answering e-mails and watching the day arrive out my window.

I was rewarded with a pair of northern flickers messing around a tree near my RV. I tried to get a picture, but it was dark and my photo turned out poorly. I thought you might want to see it anyway, but I added a photo taken by Joanne Kamo  http://www.pbase.com/jitams to give you a better look.

Meanwhile, I did enjoy watching the pair of large woodpeckers – that’s the family to which northern flickers belong. They stayed around for quite a while poking around the tree, and sticking their heads into a couple of holes it contained. If Cindi hadn’t called I would have missed them all together.

Life’s like that. It throws you a curve ball, then apologizes with a slow pitch you can’t miss.

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